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Man pleads innocent in fatal beating in 2003

September 18, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A man charged with taking part in the fatal beating of a 93-year-old man in January 2003 pleaded innocent Friday morning to charges of felony murder, attempted robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery.

John Michael Dignazio, 31, entered the plea before Circuit Judge Christopher Wilkes and also waived his right to a speedy trial.

Dignazio is serving a prison sentence in Virginia, but was transferred to West Virginia on an Interstate Agreement on Detainers.

"He's going to be in jail regardless," Dignazio's attorney, Mark Sutton, said of his client's wish to waive his speedy trial right.

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Wilkes scheduled Dignazio's trial to begin Jan. 11.

Charges against two other men were dismissed earlier this week after Dignazio said he was not going to cooperate with the state by testifying against them, Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely has said.

All three men had been charged with taking part in the Jan. 5, 2003, beating of Delbert Rodgers in Rodgers' Airport Road home outside of Martinsburg. Police have said robbery was the motive.

Charges of felony murder, attempted robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery were dismissed Tuesday against Christopher Grady, 38, and Kevin Richard Cornell, 42, of Martinsburg.

Cornell was released from Eastern Regional Jail, but Grady remains incarcerated because he is wanted on unrelated charges in other counties, Games-Neely said.

Dignazio previously gave police detailed statements about the beating, but since has said he will not cooperate unless the prosecutor cut him a deal.

Games-Neely refused his terms, she said.

The statements Dignazio gave cannot be used against anyone but himself in court because of a U.S. Supreme Court decision handed down earlier this year.

That Supreme Court opinion declared that such statements cannot be used against others because there was no opportunity for cross-examination.

Dignazio's statements are the center of the state's case, Games-Neely said.

Police and Games-Neely have said that no physical evidence was found in Rodgers' home that connected any of the men to the crime scene.

Dignazio is being held in Eastern Regional Jail without bail.

Conviction on a charge of felony murder carries a sentence of up to life in prison without parole. West Virginia does not have the death penalty.

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